Following her role as Queen Caroline Mathilde in Nikolaj Arcel's acclaimed Danish costume drama A Royal Affair, Alicia Vikander is expected to become Sweden's next big international star. She will soon be seen as Kitty, in Joe Wright's adaptation of Anna Karenina, and as one of the leads in the big-budget fantasy film, The Seventh Son. She discusses her career so far.
Could you speak Danish when you auditioned for A Royal Affair?
"No. I had two auditions in Copenhagen, and I met Nikolaj both times, and he had to speak so slowly for me to understand, like I was a child. And Mads [Mikkelsen], who speaks extremely fast and with an accent, I couldn't understand anything that he said. But I had tunnel vision after I read the script, and I really wanted to do it. So I just told them, 'If you give me two months, I'll learn Danish.'"
This is your first period drama. Did you enjoy the costumes?
"It is a young girl's dream to be a princess, so it was the first thrill to wear those dresses. But wearing a corset for three months was quite difficult. I actually fainted once, and I had never done that before. So that was quite scary. But it helps getting into character."
Did you learn much about the real Caroline Mathilde?
"The best experience for me was that I was able to find letters that she wrote to her family in London, between the ages of 15 and 23. So to be able to actually get to know my character in words, someone who lived more 300 years ago and someone I could really identify with, was amazing. Before I had those letters, Nikolaj and I thought she was this really young girl, kind of naïve, who comes to this country and she meets this doctor and gets introduced into all of these ideas. But actually when I had all those letters, she already was so grown up."
Who was she at an emotional level?
"What I found was a very tough girl. Some of the letters were quite formal, but you could always sense that she was very sensitive and that she tried her best through all of those years. It actually said at one point that she did cry, that one tear actually did fall, and that was huge when I read that in words. You could feel the loneliness."
You trained professionally as a ballet dancer when you were younger. Why did you switch to acting?
"I started off when I was seven years old doing musicals. I was in Les Miserables and The Sound of Music, and my mum's an actress. My parents divorced when I was young, and when she couldn't find a babysitter, I was in the wings, sleeping. When I was 15 I did a TV series with Thomas Alfredson, who did Tinker Tailor. I did that without permission, really, from the [dance] school, and they hated me for it, just running away for three months almost. But that was when I started to realise that my passion, actually, was somewhere else."
The Australian actress Mia Wasikowska also studied ballet, and she said that it became an impossible search for perfection at a time when her body was changing. What drew her to acting was that it was the opposite.
"I really understand what she means, because I think what I like is the flaws that I actually can engage in this profession. I'd actually tried to do that with ballet by making my own choreography, and trying to create something which wasn't just based on technique."
Is ballet as hard on the body as Black Swan made it appear?
"Well I had my first surgery, on my foot, when I was 15, and I was away for three months. And then [I had problems with] my discs in my back. When I quit I was 18, and I think I could have only done it fully for another six years. I just knew that my body would probably not be able to do more than that."
Do you still train?
"Only, like, Pilates and yoga, but I actually went back and did some classes for Anna Karenina. Joe decided to work with Sidi Larbi [Cherkaoui], one of the most inspiring choreographers right now, and we went away to Amsterdam and worked. I was able to actually combine dance and acting, which was a dream come true."
I read that you filmed in northern Russia in quite extreme conditions.
"Yeah, it was 38 below and there were, like, dozens of wolves. We weren't allowed to go out after seven. It even said on the call sheet, because there had been an accident the day before: 'Beware, wolves are known to attack lone humans [laughs].'"
You've been cast as one of the leads in The Seventh Son, based on a novel by Joseph Delaney. How did that come about?
"I was actually on set in the Czech Republic when I got the part. I had said to my agents at the time that I didn't want to read any scripts, because going into A Royal Affair was such a big thing for me. There was the language, we worked six days a week, 17-18 hours a day - it was insane. Anyway, I came back to the hotel around 11 in the evening and then my agent just called: 'Okay, the director wants to Skype with you tomorrow.' I was like, 'I don't have time to read the script, but okay.' I looked at some scenes, and then we put a camera up in the hotel room, taped a scene, and sent it about two in the morning. A few days later I was on a flight over to LA, and 40 hours later I had the part."
People say you're at the start of an amazing career. Can you plan for this?
"I don't think you can. I think it's more about being prepared. I was never expecting this, and even though I go abroad now doing film, I definitely want to go back to Sweden doing films in Scandinavia."
A Royal Affair is in cinemas now